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Perceptual and attentional factors in encoding irrelevant spatial information

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Numerous studies found superior performance when the irrelevant location of a stimulus and response location were corresponding than when they were not corresponding (Simon effect), suggesting that stimulus location is processed in an obligatory manner. The present study compared Simon effects from the location of a relevant (i.e., to-be-attended) object to those from the location of an irrelevant (i.e., to-be-ignored) object. In four experiments, participants were presented with a rectangular frame and a square, with the relevant object in green or red color and the irrelevant object in gray or white color. Participants’ task was to respond with a lateral keypress to the color of the relevant object, and we varied spatial correspondence between the location of the relevant or the irrelevant object and the response, respectively. Results consistently showed larger Simon effects from the location of the relevant than from the irrelevant object, even when the irrelevant object was made very salient. These results suggest that location processing is largely confined to relevant (i.e., attended) objects, stressing the role of attention shifts for location encoding.

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We thank Bianca Roth for running the experiments.

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Correspondence to Peter Wühr.

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Wühr, P., Biebl, R., Umiltà, C. et al. Perceptual and attentional factors in encoding irrelevant spatial information. Psychological Research 73, 350–363 (2009). https://doi.org/10.1007/s00426-008-0160-8

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  • Simon Effect
  • Irrelevant Stimulus
  • Simon Task
  • Relevant Object
  • Stimulus Configuration